'We'll quit talks if building resumes'
Hours after Hillary Clinton announces launch of direct negotiations with no preconditions, senior officials in Palestinian Authority stress they would quit talks should Israel resume settlement construction. Meanwhile, Arab newspaper reports US provided Palestinians with guarantees in entering negotiations
Palestinian leadership announced Saturday that it accepts the United States' invitation to enter into direct talks with Israel, however PA senior officials conditioned talks with a continued freeze in settlement construction. Meanwhile, Israeli state officials stressed that a freeze continuation was not an option.
Also on Saturday, Arab media reported that the Palestinians had set conditions for direct talks which the US accepted and provided guarantees for.
Palestinian sources told the London-based al-Hayat newspaper that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accepted American guarantees since Washington "already knows where talks should proceed and how they should end." This suggests an independent Palestinian state on the 1967 borders.
The sources added that the US administration would push for a continuation of the freeze in settlement construction.
At the end of a PLO Executive Committee meeting chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that any new Israeli construction on future Palestinian state lands would cause the PA to withdraw from negotiations. "Should the Israeli government issue new tenders on September 26, we will not be able to continue with talks," he said.
PLO official Yasser Abd Rabbo also stressed that talks would be jeopardized should Israel fail to fully cease construction. The Palestinians said that their entry into negotiations is based on the Quartet's announcement and not on the US declaration. The Quartet announcement does not mention a lack of preconditions.
The PLO Executive Committee also stated that the talks will focus on all permanent status issues and will be based on the Quartet's non-recognition of the annexation of east Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak accepted an invitation by the United States to attend the launch of direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced Friday that Israel and the Palestinian Authority have agreed to return to the negotiating table, under US mediation.
In her statement, Clinton invited Netanyahu and Abbas to a September 2nd summit in Washington, hosted by US President Barack Obama.
Clinton said that the talks will be held with no preconditions and that the US believes an agreement can be reached within a year.
Also Friday, the Quartet of world powers engaged in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process issued a statement calling on both parties to accept Clinton's invitation to a September summit. The Quartet pledged its support for the talks, and reiterated Clinton's hope that a peace agreement could be achieved within a year.
US special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell was the only one to address the issue of the settlement construction freeze in a rather vague statement in which he noted that the US's stance on settlements had not changed. He stressed that both parties should act in way which would support the peace process and not compromise it.
However, senior Israeli state officials told Ynet on Friday that a continuation of the construction freeze was "not on the table."
"There is a government decision – and we shall abide by it," one source said. There is a majority in the forum of seven cabinet ministers which endorses the end of the freeze at the designated date. Only two ministers might support a continuation – Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Intelligence and Atomic Energy Minister Dan Meridor.
Palestinian groups reject talks
Various Palestinian organizations condemned direct negotiations with Israel on Friday. Hamas rejected the call for talks, describing it as a new attempt to deceive the Palestinian people. "The Palestinian people will not be bound to the outcomes," Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri said.
The Islamic Jihad stated that the PLO Executive Committee's discussion was "capitulation to an American edict meant to serve Israeli interests." The group stressed that the discussion does not represent the popular and national Palestinian consensus, but only that of a small group which benefits from the continuation of the division within the Palestinian people.
Palestinian Parliament member Mustafa Barghouti said that Clinton's version of negotiations was more dangerous than the Camp David talks held over a decade ago as it is not based on a construction freeze and has no clear foundations.
Reuters, Roni Sofer and Roee Nahmias contributed to this report
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